Unfriended Review

Posted: December 10, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

unfriendedWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The first time I heard of Unfriended is when I saw the trailer in front of It Follows back in April. The film, for anyone who doesn’t know, basically revolves around a haunted skype call. I remember sitting in the theater and thinking, “This looks like the stupidest fucking movie ever made”. Obviously that’s a little hyperbolic, but the notion of making a low-budget horror film revolving around skype just seemed like such a lazy and exploitive business decision. The film benefits from using social media elements familiar to teens, and they can make the film on an extremely-low budget. It’s an easy win for the studio, and I expected it to be another piece of exploitive trash that would be dismissed and forgotten shortly thereafter. The film certainly got some really negative reviews, but there was also a small minority saying that it wasn’t that bad. Enough people claimed this for me to be mildly curious, so when I saw the film sitting for free at the local library, I decided it was worth a shot.

The high-concept of Unfriended is that the whole thing plays out in real time on a teenager named Blair’s (Shelley Hennig) laptop. Much of the film is spent skyping with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), along with their larger group of friends Jess (Renne Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), and Val (Courtney Halverson). However they find another user in their skype call who they can’t get rid of. At first, this person remains silent, but eventually claims to be Laura Barns, a fellow high schooler who committed suicide a year ago to the day after being bullied over an online video of herself. Everyone involved quickly scoffs this off as some sort of hoax, but it becomes clear that something dangerous, and perhaps super natural, is going on. As the film goes, Laura begins to trap these people into a twisted game which will reveal their own hateful past.

My main objection to this film going in was the idea of the whole thing taking place on a laptop, and particularly a skype chat. That just seemed really, really lazy to me, but the format is actually pretty effective here. Director Leo Gabriadze does a good job giving this a feeling of authenticity in terms of how the central teen’s various tabs are laid out and how she acts. The cast also helps this. A lot of these actors look like actual teenagers, not movie stars. It’s still a lot of really attractive people, but they have the blemishes and imperfections real people off. More importantly though, the format actually serves the story. Unfriended is clearly a movie about issues of cyber bullying, and given that, the high concept actually makes sense.

What ends up being most interesting here is the fears that the movie taps into. Obviously a big part of Unfriended is the fear of being bullied and what that means in an online world, but on the other side, the film also looks at the fear that cruel and hurtful remarks said casually can have serious repercussions. As the film goes, it becomes clear everyone involved played some role in Laura’s suicide, even if it was just haphazardly posting a mean comment. None of these people actually wanted Laura to kill herself, but that’s what ended up happening. In reality, a lot of teens do say and do pretty terrible things and don’t realize until far letter how hurtful their actions were. That’s a pretty novel fear which is amplified in an era of social media. The film reflects this well through the central character, who believes herself to be an innocent and good person, but comes to realize how cruel her own actions can be.

Much as I appreciate the intellectual origins of the fears presented, I wouldn’t call Unfriended very scary. All of its “big scare” set-pieces mostly fall flat. Part of the issue is they try to be too extreme, with a lot of quick cuts and graphic violence showing bad stuff happen to one of the characters. It ends up feeling goofy. The other part of the issue is the basic desktop format of the film, which quite simply doesn’t lend itself to set-piece moments. Speaking of problems related to the high-concept, I did find the film ran a bit long. At the end of the day, I’m not sure this needed to be a full-length feature. Scenes do get repetitive, often falling into yelling matches between the characters, and you end up reaching the conclusion long before the characters do. I feel like a thirty to forty minute short could probably have been a more effective exploration because even at a relatively short 85 minutes, this does feel overlong.

Even if it could have been a short, Unfriended still is infinitely better than I ever would have expected it to be. At the core of the film is an interesting fear worthy of cinematic exploration and the story proves surprisingly engaging. Is the film truly great? No, in fact it’s not really that good either, but it’s a solid little novelty that is probably worth a watch.

B-

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    After the format laziness and the other issues you mentioned, how can you give it a B-? I was with my daughter and I walked out it was so lazy and without merit. Anyway, it could have been my mood.

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